Research in Dr. Schechter's laboratory emphasizes the functional roles of Prolactin as an immunomodulator, and its interactions with various growth factors, in the lacrimal gland. There is a very high incidence of dry eye conditions which affect women, and these conditions are the leading cause that brings women to see ophthalmologists. The highest incidence is associated with menopause, i.e., it is related to an altered hormonal state. Evidence from studies by the USC Lacrimal Research Group indicates that androgens are a critical factor in the development of menopausal-related dry
eye disease. Dry eye syndromes can furthermore develop into an autoimmune disease called Sj?gren's Syndrome. These dry eye conditions appear to result from the changing hormonal milieu in aging and postmenopausal females (decreased androgens below a minimal critical level). Studies in Dr.Schechter?s laboratory are defining specific pathways and mechanisms by which growth factors, various cytokines, and Prolactin, participate in the etiology of these conditions, as well as in the secretory and immune functions of the normal lacrimal gland. We have recently completed studies
that establish that pregnancy and lactation are additional physiological states in which the lacrimal gland becomes more vulnerable to disturbances of the ocular surface. This research has the potential for direct applicability to treatment methods for dry eye conditions.